Stats at a glance
Ages: 12 +
Publisher: Avalon Hill Games
Axis & Allies holds a big place in board game history. Unlike a lot of other games that I review, and call modern-day classics, Axis & Allies has the distinction of actually being a classic board game, and one of the first widespread war board games that actually has the awards and sales records to back up the claim.
It’s steeped in history both from the WWII perspective in the board game industry.
So, if you haven’t played it yet, just getting into the hobby, or just want to know more about Axis & Allies, this review is for you. We’re diving deep into this classic to see what makes it tick and why it’s been hitting the table again and again for over 4 decades.
Table of Contents
Brief Overview of Axis & Allies
Axis & Allies is the classic WWII war board game. Players face off as either the Axis powers (Germany and Japan) or as the Allies with the United States, United Kingdom, or USSR.
Players need to deal with economics, research, and, of course, military strategy as they attempt to lead their side to victory in the Second World War.
There are quite a few different versions out there, and to the new player, it can be a daunting task to find a good starting point. There’s the original version, Revised Edition, Pacific Theater, and a host of various others, including a zombie version.
If you’re a first-time player looking to get into the action, I highly suggest starting with Axis & Allies 1942.
There are several other versions, but A&A 1942 is considered to be the best starting point (if not the definitive edition of the game) and for this review, I will be referring to the 1942 version.
Unboxing Axis & Allies
Axis & Allies is known for bringing the entirety of WWII to life on the tabletop, and to do that, there’s a lot of plastic.
The components of the game feel like an improved version of RISK. There are different types of units like ground troops and naval vessels and unlike Risk, each unit will have its own stats. It is however similar to risk in that they’re cheap plastic minis that are more utilitarian than beautiful on the tabletop.
That’s also not necessarily a bad thing. The minis are not going to hold up against CMON or any of the other fancy minis games, but you do get a lot of them and it makes sense when you consider the overall price of the game.
Axis & Allies is the bridge point between casual board gamers and hardcore wargamers, so it’s a balancing act of keeping the price point low, having something visually representative on the table, and not overwhelming players with a table full of cardboard tokens (which many typical wargames use to represent units).
Overall, the components work. They’re not going to blow you away, but for the amount of game vs. the price, you’re getting a good value.
How to Play Axis & Allies
The first order of business is deciding which side each player is going to be on, Axis or Allies. Although Axis & Allies can be played with up to 5 players it’s well known for being a fantastic 2-player duel. Whatever the number of players all 5 of the factions have to be placed on the table. If there aren’t enough players for each faction, then some players will have to play multiple factions.
Each faction has a setup card that indicates which starting territories they have along with troop numbers. It’s actually really handy and players can just follow the chart and set up the game.
On your turn
Each round there’s a set turn order that doesn’t change followed by a check to see if anyone won the game.
- Soviet Union
- United Kingdom
- United States
- Check for victory
The Soviet Union always starts first, and the United States is always last before the victory check.
Each faction can perform 6 movies, but the only mandatory one is the final one: collect income.
- Purchase units
- Combat move
- Conduct combat
- Noncombat move
- Mobilize new units
- Collect income
Axis & Allies has a built-in economic system where players can purchase new units depending upon their industrial power. This is measured using Industrial Production Credits (IPC).
Each country in a player’s control adds to their overall IPC, but not all countries are equal when it comes to industrial might. For example, the United State’s IPC will be higher than most other countries. This adds strategic depth as certain territories will be much more valuable.
Winning The Game
The winning conditions for Axis and Allies 1942 have been simplified since the original. If you look on the board there are 12 victory cities. These are capitals of nations or important strategic locations that were crucial to winning WWII.
In a standard game, players have to conquer and hold for 1 complete round at least 9 of the victory cities. There’s also a longer version of the game where players can continue playing until one side controls all 12 of the victory cities for a total victory.
Pros & Cons
- Excellent gateway into advanced war games
- Strategic Gameplay
- Middle of the Road
For the pros, Axis & Allies is an all-around fantastic game. It’s become synonymous with WWII war games and is the first place serious war gamers go. It’s often compared to Risk, and that’s oaky. In comparing the two Axis & Allies is everything that Risk is, but more.
It offers way more strategic value, units, economics, and overall strategic gameplay, and no matter how many different versions of Risk come out it will always be “dudes on a map” and rolling dice to see who has more.
Now for my cons comment.
“Middle of the Road”
What I mean by that is that Axis & Allies does a lot. It however is still designed to be more accessible and lighter than some of the bigger war games out there. It really is a Risk on steroids, meaning that although there’s a lot more strategy involved it also sometimes comes down to “dude’s on a map” and rolling dice.
It’s not so easy that absolutely everyone will want to play it, and it’s not hardcore enough to satisfy the really in-depth war gamers.
And that’s okay. It’s somewhere right in the middle as a hybrid stepping stone, and it works well where it is. It’s clearly doing something right, but It’s the only real criticism I could give the game that I haven’t already said.
Axis & Allies Review (TL;DR)
There’s a reason Axis & Allies has withstood the test of time. It’s a classic WWII board game that does an incredible job of distilling the intricacies of WWII into a board game.
What’s more, is that it does so in a way that makes it an excellent 2-player game as well as a full 5-player game. It’s an excellent stepping stone into more intricate war board games and is able to offer an amazing war board game experience while also appealing to intermediate-to-hardcore players.
If you have any interest at all in war board games and have no idea where to start the Axis & Allies series is never a bad choice.
When I first played Axis & Allies my only previous war game experience was Risk. After a long time in the tabletop hobby, I completely understand that Axis & Allies is on the lighter end of war gaming and definitely has more of a mass appeal than a lot of other war games.
That all being said, it was still rather intimidating. There are a lot of moving parts and my experience in the hobby was very limited. I still managed to finish the game (I didn’t win), but it helped open up my eyes to what a board game could portray.
Since then there’s been multiple reprints and versions of Axis & Allies, and as time goes on I really think that they’ve refined the game into something special. It’s still relatively simple and easy to learn even though it can be intimidating to new players.
The thing I find most interesting about it is the mainstream aspect of it. Many non-gamers who I’ve talked to have seen or heard about it. It’s an absolute classic board game, and I think its success paved the way for historical & war board games to come after.
We hope you enjoyed our Axis & Allies review. Have you tried Axis & Allies: 1942? How about any of the other A&A versions? We’d love to hear from you! Drop a comment below and let us know what you think.
More Axis & Allies Games
Before starting GameCows with his wife Kendra, he used to teach English Language Arts in the US. He combined his love of gaming with education to create fun game-based learning lessons until he eventually decided to run GameCows with Kendra full-time. He’s known for pouring over rulebooks in his spare time, being the rule master during game night, and as the perma DM in his DnD group. Bryan loves board games, writing, traveling, and above all his wife and partner in crime, Kendra.